Melodrama originally meant ‘drama with music’ or, more accurately, ‘music with drama’ as it developed in response to censorship of theatre in 18th century England. Dialogue, in ‘unofficial’ theatres, was banned and so music was used to convey the narrative. Terence Davies is a consummate melodramatist (some critics use the term as one of abuse but that’s because they don’t understand it) who has cut the first nine minutes of this film to the slow movement of Samuel Barber’s violin concerto. The highly impassioned romanticism of the music creates an overwhelming experience as we see Hester (Rachel Weitz in brilliant form) attempt to kill herself.
Maybe too overwhelming, which is a daft complaint as melodrama is meant to swamp the audience with emotion, because if you know the music its use becomes something of a distraction. The music is overwhelming, however so much so that it gets in the way of the drama.
However, I really enjoyed the film, particularly the trademark Davies singalongs; the shot in the tube station during the Blitz is brilliant. I don’t know the original Terence Rattigan play, but it has apparently been heavily adapted by Davies. What we get is like the tip of an iceberg, Hester’s state of mind in 24 hours as she reflects upon failed marriage and love affair. Though we see much of how she got to this point in flashback, we need to fill in many of the gaps such as why did she fall for the translucent Freddie (Tom Huddlestone) in the first place?
There’s some great beauty in Florian Hoffmeister’s cinematography and it’s good to see a brilliant director getting the chance to make a movie again. The film’s box office has been poor so maybe it will be his last.